02 December 2013

李商隱 Li Shangyin: 夜雨寄北(內) Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

Here is my rendition of a beautiful poem by Li Shangyin (late Tang dynasty poet) which I translated some 3 years ago.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Li Shangyin (813-858): Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

1  You asked of my date of return, I alas have none to tell,
2   In Bashan night rains in autumn, the pools and puddles swell.
3   How I long to be with you, your west wing candles to trim, and  
4   To talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
2nd November 2008 (revised 3.11.08; 5.11.08; 6.11.08; 17.11.08; 19.2.09; 26.6.09; 20.10.10; 22.10.10; 25.10.10; 26.10.10)
Translated from the original - 李商隱: 夜雨寄北()

1  君問歸期未有期
2  巴山夜雨漲秋池
3  何當共剪西窗燭
4  却話巴山夜雨時

* Meter and rhyme:  The original poem is in 7-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.  I am indebted to 施穎洲 for the “tell(1) -swell(2) - fell(4)” rhyme of his rendition of the same poem which he has entitled “Lines for Home in Rainy Night” in his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006, pp. 156-157.
* Title and interpretation:  There are 2 versions to the title, “to the North” 寄北 and “to My Wife” 寄內, giving rather different interpretations to the poem.  Although “to the North” is the preferred title, “to My Wife” is the preferred interpretation of most Chinese scholars as the contents of the poem, albeit ambiguous, conveys an intimacy which can only be marital.  My rendition is similarly ambiguous although I have taken “to the North” in the title as there are strong grounds for this, as by the time the poet was posted to Bashan (present day Chongqing 重慶 until recently the eastern part of Sichuan 四川), his wife had already passed away.  The addressee must therefore be someone very close to the poet; and it has been suggested that a possible addressee is Wen Tingyun (812-870) 温庭筠, a poet who had exchanged poems with the poet. 
* Line 1:  I had considered “day” but have decided for “date” to translate .
* Line 2:  I had used “puddles and ponds do swell” and “pools and ponds do swell” but have now decided for “pools and puddles swell”.
* Line 3:  For 何堪共 I had considered but rejected “O how I long to be home with you” as this would make the poem unambiguously a letter to the wife (please see my note on title and interpretation above).  I had then considered “how I long/wish we’re together/I’m with you/to join you/to be with you” and have decided for “How I long to be with you” (the word “with” read stressed).  For 剪西窗燭 I had considered “by the west window candles to trim” and the whole line as “How I long to trim with you, candles by the window to the west”.  Now that I have come to interpret 西窗 “west window” as a synecdoche for 西廂 “west wing/room/suite”, I have decided for “your west wing candles to trim”.
* Line 4:  I had first penned the line as “To speak of our lonesome times when in Bashan night rains fell”, but       have now decided against adding “lonesome” (which is not in the original) and have changed it to “To           talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell”.


Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I have re-considered line 1. How do you like my revising it to read "You asked me my date date of return, I alas have none to tell"?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I mean only 1 "date".

Ray Heaton said...

巴山夜雨 Ba Shan Ye Yu is used as an idiom for being lonely in a strange land; I wonder if you had considered using this within the poem, possibly in line two?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton for his point well made. I had, indeed, considered adding to line 4 (not line 2, which I find hard) the idea of "lonely/lonesome" but have decided against it. That very idea permeates the entire poem in the original without having to use the very word. This is what makes the poem so subtly beautiful, and this is what makes 巴山夜雨 "Bashan ye yu" standard allusion to, if not idiomatic of, "loneliness in separation".

Ray Heaton said...

On TV last night, one of the UK's "performance poets" said that all poetry should be read aloud, even if you are by yourself. I just tried that with this poem, and I got goose pimples with the imagery invoked by the words...I think possibly as we're having many "night rains" of our own and our puddles are certainly swelling...but more about how the poem still resonates across the centuries since it was written. I think this shows how good and intelligent a translation this is. Thank you, Andrew, for your skill freely given, I really appreciate it!

TheCyberman2046 said...

I just want to post another version for sharing. I think the original translation is very good.

You ask for my date of return, but I have nothing to explain,
Tonight in Bashan the pond is flooded with Autumn rain;
When do we trim the candle together under the window of West side,
And tell you more about tonight Bashan’s rainy sky

translated by Alan Ma, Jan.4, 2014
Email: omega@hkftp.com

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank TheCyberman2046 for his contribution. (I suppose he and Alan Ma are one and the same person.) He has adopted the popular English rhyme scheme of AABB (A: explain-rain, B: side-sky) which is used by many a great translator, although I personally favour the original rhyme scheme of AAXA or AABA (A: tell-swell-fell). His rendition is fluent except for line 3 (which is too long and which I find hard to shorten) and line 4 (I venture to suggest revising it to read "And to tell you more about Bashan's rainy night sky"). The word "explain" in line 1 is probably used simply for the rhyme. I would rather he uses my "tell". As for line 2, if he finds my "swell" too artificial and prefers "flooded" (or "filled"), the line can be re-written as "Night rains in Bashan in Autumn have flooded (or filled) the ponds and wells" which satisfies the rhyme. Albeit, I am truly grateful for his making me re-think what I have written.

TheCyberman2046 said...

Thank you Andrew for taking the time to answer me. You have made very good suggestion. I have adopted your comments and rhythumic scheme (AAXA). Here is the rendition once again:

You ask for my date of return, but I don’t have one to explain,
Tonight in Bashan the pond is flooded with Autumn rain;
When do we trim candle at the window of West side,
And to tell you about Bashan's rainy night with no restrain

Alan Ma is the same as Cyberman2046

Are you the famous ex-legistative councillor and ex-Chairman of Legisco? I think you did a good job at the Legisco.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Yes, I am.